From top: Peter Smyth; Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley, People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, Green Party TD Eamon Ryan, Senator Michael McDowell and Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley
Peter Smyth, who reviewed communications between the former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and businessman David McCourt of Granahan McCourt, took questions from members of an Oireachtas committee.
The purpose of the procurement process auditor’s review was to see if the communications between Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt tainted the NBP procurement process.
At the outset of yesterday’s meeting, Mr Smyth stated:
“I am satisfied that the process itself is safe…I do believe the process is untainted by the meetings between the former minister and Mr McCourt.”
But as questions were put to Mr Smyth by several TDs and Senators – including Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley, People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, Green Party TD Eamon Ryan and Senator Michael McDowell – Mr Smyth faltered.
It emerged that Mr Smyth did not hold any face-to-face meetings with any of the people with whom he discussed these meetings.
Instead, he conducted his review, over four weeks, via phone calls, texts and emails.
The people with whom Mr Smyth spoke to did not give him sworn statements.
He explained his process doesn’t require him to ask people to make sworn statements.
In his review, Mr Smyth said he could only take Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt’s word for what was discussed at two one-on-one meetings and one phone call – communications for which there are no minutes, notes or no third party to verify what was or wasn’t discussed.
Mr Smyth also told the committee that, as a process auditor who has carried out many process examinations during his career, he’s never made a finding against any process.
Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley first raised the department’s own communications protocol for the procurement process or “rules of engagement” and asked if the rules were broken.
Specifically, he asked about the rule that says direct or indirect “canvassing” by a bidder is prohibited.
He pointed out that if a bidder was found to have been canvassing the department, the bidder would be immediately disqualified from the process.
Mr Smyth said:
“I formed the view that the meetings don’t amount to canvassing.”
Mr Dooley raised the dinner meeting in Clare, on September 16, 2017, between Mr Naughten and Mr McCourt, which was also attended by Minister for State Pat Breen, who set up the meeting, at Mr McCourt’s home in Clare.
At this point, in September 2017, there were two other bidders seeking the contract for the NBP.
In his review, Mr Smyth found that this meeting took place outside the procurement process.
Mr Dooley said to Mr Smyth:
“The average punter on the street cannot accept, absolutely, think that, you and everybody else believe in fairytales if you think that, at no time, during that kind of encounter that there was no discussion whatsoever about the NBP.”
“If the NBP was discussed, at that particular point… would you accept that that would have given considerable rise to concern while there were two other bidders in the race?“
Mr Smyth said he would accept that.
Mr Dooley also raised the meeting between the two men in New York, on July 16, 2018, which was set up by Mr McCourt, where they did discuss the NBP procurement process when no member of the NBP process was present.